There is nothing about bubble gum pink—besides our own societal contexts—that makes it an inherently feminine color. In a series entitled Non-binary Portraits, photographer Laurence Philomene—who goes by she/her and they/them pronouns—explores color and gender identity in a joyful, accepting, and deeply personal way.
Models who are transgender, intersex, gender fluid, and a variety of other different identities pose in front of brightly-colored backdrops, looking defiantly into the camera and presenting themselves the way they want to be represented.
Philomene says the portraits are not trying to dismantle or reframe any notions of gender. The series—which started simply as a showcase for Philomene's friends—aims only to provide better, clearer, and more personalized representation for non-binary people. It's "just to show that they exist and are validated," Philomene tells Creators.
Philomene defines non-binary as "any person who doesn't fit in the man/woman" dichotomy. The term represents a diverse range of unique people who have different priorities, opinions, and points of view, which Philomene highlights throughout the series with portraits that are personal and particular to each subject.
When the portrait series was just an idea, Philomene began by asking friends how they would identify their "ideal selves." But the project quickly grew into a collaborative study of representation. Philomene works closely with the subjects to develop an aesthetic or idea for their portraits.
And although just being a visible and active member of the LGBTQ community can itself be a political act, Philomene says that the portrait series was not meant to be something wildly political or a deconstruction of gender identity.
"I'm never trying to reframe or change concepts," Philomene explains. "I'm really just trying to show friends and showcase people with marginalized identities. I've really had to listen to my subjects, so it's a bit of a learning curve for me, too."
The entire portrait series is a collaboration between photographer and subject. Although the colors in each shot are perhaps the most identifying aspect of the portrait series, the process of selecting colors was collaborative. Some subjects would select their own colors for the background, if there was a specific color with which they identified strongly. Other times, Philomene would select colors that went with the subject's hair color or clothing. Or sometimes, the background color was just one that Philomene liked.
"A lot of people ask me if there's a deeper meaning to the colors," Philomene explains. "Not really. There are just certain colors that make me happy."
The portraits themselves are joyful and a celebration of marginalized identities. And although the series has resonated deeply with many people around the world, at the end of the day, it's "work I do for myself and for my friends," Philomene says.
The portraits are not high-fashion reimaginings of who the subjects are. "It's all about the imperfections which, for me, is the most beautiful part."